Relieve Stress at Your Workplace: It Might Just Help You Manage Your Weight!

No doubt about it, when we feel stressed we want to raid the candy machine, or down a pint of ice cream. Of course we feel immediate gratification because of the "feel good" endorphins that are released when we eat something we love but now new research confirms these food urges are caused by more than endorphins.

Elissa Epel, PhD, a health psychology researcher at the University of California at San Francisco explains that when we are stressed a hormone called cortisol is released which can increase our appetite specifically for sweets. Moreover, the more ongoing stress we have on a day to day basis such as a demanding job can lead to cortisol levels being elevated all of the time, and can facilitate the deposit of fat in the deep belly area which is known to increase health risks.

Stress is a fight-or-flight response characterized by increased heart rate, increased breathing, increased blood pressure, and a 300 to 400 percent increase in the amount of blood flowing to our muscles, which prepares us to run or to flight. Unfortunately, in today's world we don't run nor do we flight. Yet the adrenaline and other hormones released during this process leads to a number of symptoms including:

? Anxiety
? Depression
? Excessive anger and hostility
? High blood pressure
? Insomnia (lack of sleep)
? Racing Heart
? Risk factor for heart attacks
? Tiredness

The most common behaviors that people use to cope with the symptoms of stress are:

? Critical attitude towards others
? Overuse of alcohol
? Compulsive eating
? Inability to get things done
? Smoking

As you can see, the most common coping strategies are not exactly healthy or positive choices. One problem is that many of the healthy choices such as exercise, yoga, and meditation aren't easy to do during the workday. What is easy is the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup calling your name every time you pass the vending machine. But wait! There is another choice to relieve stress while at work. Deep breathing can help you to get through the extra stress of the workday. Deep breathing can help you to relax by lowering your blood pressure, slowing your heart rate, and easing muscle tension and the best part is you can do it at your desk. The Mayo Clinic Women's Healthsource offers instructions on how to practice deep breathing.

* Sit in a comfortable chair with feet flat on the floor.

* Close your eyes or focus on an object in the room.

* Inhale slowly through your nose. Visualize your diaphragm moving down to create more room for your lungs to expand.

* Notice your lower abdomen expand as it fills with air

* When your lungs are full, slowly let air out through your mouth.

* Repeat as many times as you need to. Be sure you have cleared your mind of the worry list that was present before.

* When you are ready to end your session, don't jump out of your chair. Slowly bring yourself back into your surroundings.

Practicing deep breathing regularly can provide great health rewards such as reducing anxiety, conserving energy, improving sleep, improving concentration, and relieving muscle tension. Coping with your stress in a healthy manner will help you to avoid the stress-induced temptations of the vending machine so you can manage your health and your weight with success.

© Meri Raffetto, 2005

Meri Raffetto is a Registered Dietitian and a recognized professional in the area of nutrition and wellness. She is the owner of Real Living Nutrition Services providing interactive online weight management programs. Sign up for her free monthly nutrition newsletter at http://www.reallivingnutrition.com

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